The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

I didn’t actually intend to blog this book, not that it wasn’t enjoyable but because I had actually forgotten I had it on my bookshelves. As fortune would have it, I found some late-summer squash blossoms at my nearby grower’s market yesterday morning, along with many other garden goodies. Anyway, back to the book. Set in Italy, obviously, The Tuscan Child is a pretty good read about a young woman named Joanna whose father Hugo has died and left her what’s left of his property and fortune in England. Arranging his funeral, she naturally has to go through letters and paperwork and discovers among his things a love letter from a woman named Sofia. Sofia, it turns out, rescued Hugo during WWII, when his fighter plane was shot down over her Tuscan village of San Salvatore, and of course, they fall in love. But of course, true love never runs smoothly, particularly during a world war when the country you’ve been trapped in is invaded by disgusting Nazis.

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The book is told from two viewpoints and in two points in history. Joanna and her journey from England to Italy to learn more about Sofia and the Tuscan child she mentions in her letter, wanting to find out if this woman and her father had a baby together. Hugo’s story details his plane crash, how he and Sofia fall in love, and the occupation of Italy during WWII, which was fascinating to me. I never realized that Italy actually turned on Germany and surrendered to the Allied Forces, but the fact that the Nazi army was still actually physically in Italy made it much more difficult to fight them, since the Nazis were particularly nasty after their one-time partners turned against them.

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Hugo is part of the Allied effort to fully get the Nazis out of Italy when his plane is shot down. He hides in an old, abandoned church and is found by Sofia, who has struggles of her own in the village. Her husband is gone, feared dead and later in the book, she is accused of collaborating with the Nazis. And poor Joanna is kind of an annoying character, initially whiny and passive and self-pitying. It’s not until she goes to Italy to find Hugo and Sofia’s “Tuscan child” that she starts taking initiative, seeing the bigger picture, and essentially growing up.  She stays in San Salvatore with a wonderful woman named Paola, her daughter Angelina, and Angelina’s newborn daughter. Probably the best parts of this book were the cooking passages. Of course, being in Tuscany, there has to be food and food galore is part of this book. Paola cooks homemade pasta, brodo with tomatoes and stale bread, artichokes, asparagus, and the thing that made me get this book out and reread it for today’s post – the stuffed squash blossoms.

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“Let’s get on with the meal, Mamma. I am hungry and I am sure Signorina Joanna is, too.” “Then lay the table and slice the bread,” Paola said, going ahead of us into the cool kitchen. “And put out the salami and the cheese and wash those radishes.” She turned to me. “Now pay attention if you want to see how we stuff the zucchini blossoms.” She put some of the white cheese into a bowl, chopped up and added some of the herb I had now decided was mint, then grated some lemon zest on it. Then she took a spoon and carefully stuffed this mixture into each of the blossoms.

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I’d had them when I visited Italy a few years ago and they were divine, lightly coated with a lemony batter and stuffed with creamy, herbed cheese so I decided that, having found these beautiful yellow flowers, I was going to make them. So I did.

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INGREDIENTS
12 squash blossoms
3/4 cup of flour
1 teaspoon sea salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup of San Pellegrino sparkling limonata or any lemon seltzer
1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
Lemon zest to taste
Fresh mint
Olive oil for frying

METHOD
Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until shimmering.

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Finely chop the mint. I got to bust out the mezzaluna for this so I was happy.

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Mix the mint with the Ricotta cheese and zest the lemon into this mixture. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper as needed.

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Gently open the squash blossoms and stuff each cavity with the lemony, minty cheese mixture. The smell is awesome, with the cool mint offset by the sharp lemon.

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Don’t overfill them or they won’t close. Seal them by twisting together the head petals. Set aside.

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Prepare the batter by adding the salt and pepper to the flour, mixing together, and slowly pouring in the limonata. Stir to mix until you have a relatively thick batter for coating the flowers.

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Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, shake off the excess, and fry for about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.

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Let drain on paper towels and devour!

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And if you have any batter left, throw in some shaved Parmesan and make cheesy fritters. They were an excellent accompaniment to these gorgeous squash blossoms.

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22 thoughts on “The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

  1. This is so inspiring because I’ve always wanted to try cooking squash blossoms! We have so many out in the pumpkin patch right now and I want to try this. They look delicious! Great share as usual. ❤😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You really should try them! They were so simple and delicious. The filling can really be anything you want, just with the ricotta base. These might be my favorite thing I’ve made so far! Let me know if you make them and how they turn out.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, this was a good read, and I learned a lot about Italy’s role in World War II. Fascinating stuff. Another good read that talks a lot about Italy during WWII is called Delicious, by Ruth Reichl, and I also blogged about it. When your book is published, you’ll have to let me know so I can read it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, that is very nice of you. I will look for Delicious as well. I recently read Number the Stars for Jay’s Children’s Readathon. That was about WWII in Denmark which was quite a different take for me. I have never thought about how WWII impacted this particular country before.

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  2. Your recipe sounds delicious! Will definitely try it. I have a Sicilian recipe for stuffing that includes mozzarella cheese, anchovies, parsley and toasted breadcrumbs with garlic I made last week. Such different flavors! I forgot to take out the bitter stamen, though. You might want to let readers know about this. Also, you can even slit the flower but then twist and seal it right up with the flower mixture it won’t leak.

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    1. Thank you so much! Your recipe sounds AMAZING! I got some more blossoms so I think I’ll try it this weekend using your idea. We actually ate the stamen and all, and it didn’t taste bitter, but perhaps the frying helped? I really appreciate your cooking suggestions. Much easier to make next time.

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  3. I don’t know that I ever really “got” stuffed zucchini blossoms before. I’ve seen then done on tv a time or two but they didn’t sound like you’ve made them sound. Now I feel like I HAVE to have some! Love the cheese, too!

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  4. I saw some of those this weekend too! I almost bought them, but didn’t know how to make them. Damn it! Then I saw your post and am filled with courage to try again this coming weekend. 🙂 They look delicious and I like your little fritters you made with the leftover batter. Very good idea. Thanks for the ongoing cooking inspiration. I look forward to reading your posts each week.

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  5. Nice post. I’ve never had the nerve to try stuffed courgette flowers, it looks so fragile and complicated! Haven’t read this book but I did read one you wrote about recently – set in Venice in the 15th Century – really enjoyed it. Currently browsing Anna del Conte’s ‘Asparagus, Apple Cake and Amaretti’ or a title something like that. Such easy style, the Italians have.

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    1. Thanks, Helen! I, too, was nervous about stuffing them but they are quite sturdy little blossoms and if you use a small butter knife and go slowly, it’s totally fine. They were so delicious! I’m thinking you read “The Book of Unholy Mischief” as that’s the most recent Venice 15th century book I’ve blogged, and if so, glad you enjoyed it. I loved that book so much! Speaking of the wonderful Anna del Conte, have you read “The Painter, the Cook and the Art of Cucina?” It’s amazing. Hand sketches of regional food in Italy, combined with her witty commentary and fabulous recipes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I started it and keep forgetting to read it – Chance is still a young dog and pretty good most of the time but every once in awhile he goes on a chewing “bender” so I have to keep everything put away. So I read a bit, put it in a drawer and then forget it. Getting old so sucks. On the plus side I’ve read the first couple chapters three or four times, haha! there was time I could finish a book in an evening, not anymore. This IS much cheaper, though, in terms of paying for books!!

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    1. I was wondering if you might be interested in collaborating on a blog post one day. Now with the fall Chile harvest coming in. I really want to do something and I thought it would be fun to do a post with a fellow Albuquerque Blogger. Let me know your thoughts.

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